Keto and Hunger Pangs: Top 10 Ways to Reduce Them

Keto and hunger pangs are one of the most common topics among people in the adaptation phase. However, there are ways to reduce them. This comprehensive article will discuss why hunger pangs happen and the top 10 ways to reduce them.

Hunger and the Keto Diet

The hunger felt during the keto-adaptation phase is mainly due to metabolic shifts and hormone influence. But it could also be due to dehydration, unhealthy diet, stress, lack of sleep, and medication side effects.

You can reduce hunger on keto by getting more fat, protein, nutrient-dense foods, water, exercise, meditation, and avoiding processed foods, sweeteners, and snacking.

Metabolic Shift and Drop in Blood Glucose

Traditionally, the body primarily relies on glucose derived from carbohydrates for energy. Consuming meals with high sugar or refined carbohydrates can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar followed by crashes, prompting the body to signal hunger.

When carbs are restricted, the blood glucose drops and the body transitions into a state of ketosis, which utilizes stored fat for fuel.

The body needs time to adapt to the new energy substrate, and during the adaptation phase, the brain signals the body to crave carbs, causing increased psychological hunger. 

Hormonal Influence

6 hormones regulate hunger and satiety: ghrelin, leptin, neuropeptide Y (NPY), peptide YY (PYY), Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), and cholecystokinin (CCK). 

1. Ghrelin: often referred to as the hunger hormone, is released in response to an empty stomach, signaling the need to eat and stimulating the brain’s reward center, making food more appealing. 

Interestingly, ghrelin levels are higher in lean individuals and lower in obese individuals1 but do not decrease after meals in obese individuals.2

Studies suggest long-term keto does not increase ghrelin levels.3 Instead, long-term keto prevents the release of ghrelin,4 resulting in reduced appetite.  

2. Leptin: It is the satiety hormone produced by fat cells. Leptin signals the brain to stop eating when sufficient energy is stored, but low leptin levels trigger hunger signals,5 indicating empty fat stores. 

Leptin resistance,6 where the body becomes less responsive to the hormone, can lead to overeating, weight gain, and metabolic disorders.

Studies suggest that keto decreases leptin secretion,3 which may contribute to the lack of satiety. But this is mostly due to the decrease in body fat with ketosis.

3. Neuropeptide Y (NPY): involved in initiating ketogenesis.7 NPY is an abundant and potent appetite-stimulating compound found in the hypothalamus. NPY regulates food intake, with leptin suppressing its activity and ghrelin stimulating it.8 

Elevated NPY increases cravings,9 especially for carbohydrates, and is associated with fat storage, weight gain, and stress response.

4. Peptide YY (PYY): crucial for reducing appetite after eating.10 Adequate PYY levels are essential for controlling food intake, particularly after exercise, and obese individuals may exhibit attenuated PYY responses,11 leading to uncontrolled overeating.

5. Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1): secreted in response to nutrient intake, helps stabilize blood glucose levels,12 and induces satiety. Reduced hunger and increased satiety13 observed after gastric bypass surgery may be linked to an increased GLP-1 response.

6. Cholecystokinin (CCK): produced in response to a meal, is the first gut hormone affecting appetite.14 It promotes leptin secretion,15 which enhances CCK-induced satiety16 and regulates various processes in the body. 

However, obese individuals may develop CCK resistance, contributing to overeating. Interestingly, keto increases CCK levels.17 


Dehydration can often be mistaken for physiological hunger, leading to unnecessary snacking. Ketosis often causes dehydration18 due to decreased glycogen stores and diuretic effects. 

It’s important to note the symptoms of dehydration during ketosis to focus on hydration rather than snacking. 

Unhealthy Diet

An unhealthy diet, characterized by highly processed foods and low nutritional value, increases hunger hormones.19 Such foods may lack essential nutrients, causing the body to signal hunger to fulfill its nutritional needs.


Stress is a significant contributor to increased appetite and hunger pangs.20 When stressed, the body releases cortisol, a hormone that can stimulate hunger,21 particularly for comfort foods high in calories.

Lack of Sleep

Insufficient sleep disrupts the delicate balance of hunger and satiety hormones, ghrelin and leptin. 

When sleep-deprived, ghrelin levels increase,22 signaling hunger, while leptin levels decrease,23 reducing the feeling of fullness. 

Medications and Medical Conditions

Certain medications, including antipsychotics, may increase ghrelin levels24 and have appetite-stimulating effects, leading to increased hunger pangs.

Hyperthyroidism,25 hypoglycemia,26 and diabetes,27 also cause increased hunger or hunger pangs. 

Sudden Hunger Pangs on Keto

Hunger pangs or pains are stomach contractions causing a growling, twisting, or gurgling feeling. This is often a physiological response to an empty stomach. 

However, hunger pangs do not always mean you are physically hungry, but are also influenced by psychological factors. 

Stress, emotional triggers, or habits developed on previous diets can lead to sudden hunger pangs. Effective hunger management requires recognizing and addressing these psychological aspects. 

Moreover, in some cases, sudden hunger may signal a nutrient deficiency or a side effect of a certain medication. 

How to Reduce Hunger on a Keto Diet

keto and hunger: woman eating

1. Eat More Fat with Nutrient-dense Foods

Fats are not only a primary energy source in ketosis but also contribute to a sense of satiety.28

Opt for natural fat sources, such as avocados, olive oil, grass-fed butter, or grass-fed beef, and pair them with nutrient-dense foods low in calories to maintain fullness while maintaining keto macros.

2. Eat Enough Protein

Protein is the most filling macronutrient, making it crucial in maintaining satiety while on keto. Make sure to include a portion of protein in every meal. Opt for fatty protein sources like fish, meat, and eggs while mindful of your overall macronutrient balance.

3. Avoid Processed Foods

Processed foods, even those labeled as keto-friendly, may lack essential nutrients and contain additives and preservatives that can disrupt hormonal balance. 

Choose whole, unprocessed foods to meet your nutritional needs and regulate your appetite more effectively.

4. Avoid Snacking

Snacks, even those keto-friendly ones, are low in protein and add up to calories without making you feel full. Plan your meals with fats, proteins, and low-carb vegetables to maintain satiety. 

Pro tip: drink a glass of water when you feel like snacking and do something productive. Often, this stops psychological hunger. However, if it persists, you can get a protein-rich snack. 

5. Drink More Water

Drinking adequate water is crucial for overall health and can help control appetite. Additionally, consuming water before meals may contribute to a feeling of fullness, reducing overeating.

6. Drink Filling Beverages

On top of drinking water, filling beverages like unsweetened almond milk help curb hunger. If you’re fasting intermittently, drinking tea and coffee often helps relieve hunger.

7. Avoid Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, often non-nutritive sweeteners, may increase appetite for sweet foods,29 which may result in calorie overconsumption. 

Instead, opt for natural sweeteners sparingly, such as stevia or monk fruit, and consider eliminating the artificial sweeteners temporarily to assess their impact.

8. Get More Quality Sleep

Establish a consistent sleep routine for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Create a conducive sleep environment, limit screen time before bed, and practice relaxation techniques to improve sleep quality.

9. Meditate and Do Breathing Exercises

Incorporate mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, to help manage stress levels and promote a healthier relationship with food.

10. Move More

Studies suggest that increased movements result in better appetite control and suppression.30 Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, and consider activities like walking, cycling, swimming, or home exercises.

The Bottom Line

Hunger during ketosis is a common phenomenon due to the metabolic shift. However, hunger pangs can also be due to many psychological factors, which need more than just consuming more calories.

Mindfulness in the causes of hunger helps you address it better without compromising your health goals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How do I stop hunger on keto?

First, find your trigger. Hunger could be due to physiological hunger, dehydration, stress, lack of sleep, nutrient deficiency, or medication side effects. Once identified, address them accordingly. 

How long does hunger last on keto?

Keto hunger should last about 2-3 weeks and diminish over time. This estimate differs per individual, and each one responds to changes differently.

Is it normal to feel hungry on a low-carb diet?

Yes, a low-carb diet causes a drop in blood glucose levels, and the brain creates hunger signals to encourage carbohydrate and calorie intake.

Should I go to bed hungry on keto?

If your hunger is physiological, you can always eat a keto-friendly snack an hour before bed as long as you maintain your daily keto macros.


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Mag. Stephan Lederer, MSc.

Mag. Stephan Lederer, MSc. is an author and blogger from Austria who writes in-depth content about health and nutrition. His book series on Interval Fasting landed #1 on the bestseller list in the German Amazon marketplace in 15 categories.

Stephan is a true man of science, having earned multiple diplomas and master's degrees in various fields. He has made it his mission to bridge the gap between conventional wisdom and scientific knowledge. He precisely reviews the content and sources of this blog for currency and accuracy.

Click on the links above to visit his author and about me pages.

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